A bitter pill is hard to swallow, especially when it comes in the wake of a purple patch of success.
When Roman Reigns returned from his 30-day suspension following his wellness policy violation, things weren’t looking good for “The Guy.” He looked dejected and unshaven. He had been barracked mercilessly for his mistake on television. He was booked to lose the WWE Championship in a match between two of the most over wrestlers on the roster in which he was the third wheel.
Then was publicly humiliated for his failure the following night on Raw. The storyline seemed to transcend reality, as the WWE seemed eager to punish him for fostering resentment within the WWE Universe and showing ingratitude for all the opportunities he was given.
But the bitter pill is starting to work its magic, and Roman Reigns is not only in one of the most engrossing and entertaining feuds that the product has to offer. The fans are slowly starting to warm to, and even cheer (!) Roman Reigns again.
Inserting Reigns into the U.S. Championship feud has worked wonders on rebuilding his popularity in a number of ways. His opponent is a huge part of that. “Border wars” style storylines might have no place in 2016, but the fans are what they are, and while it might have been easy for the fans to get behind a heel like Seth Rollins in a program with Reigns, there’s no way that anybody is going to cheer for an anti-American villain like “The Bulgarian Brute.” His “USA! USA!” drawing demeanor, coupled with the fact that his beautiful wife that nobody else can have invokes the jealousy of the fans, makes him a wrestler that nobody can get behind.
In addition to this, the fans don’t actually hate Rusev in a Michael Cole sort of way, so nobody is going to plan a trip to the concession stand every time his music plays. Since two wrestlers in a ring only get booed when the fans summarily reject their match (a la Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar at WrestlaMania 20), the fans have no choice but to cheer for Roman Reigns, lest they find themselves having to swallow their innate patriotism and cheer for Rusev.
As for the “Michael Cole” hate that Roman Reigns endured for over a year, that had less to do with a lack of wrestling ability and more to do with his unwarranted push to the top with a pile of unpaid dues beneath him.
After the dissolution of The Shield, Reigns was never seen to build his way up as a singles competitor. He was immediately a big contender for the WWE World Championship, in spite of the fact that he showed no real signs of development in the same way that his Shield contemporaries did, was not permitted to show any charisma on the mic, and just generally acted like an emotionless automaton set on an unstoppable course to the top of the card.
What’s happening to Reigns now should have happened over a year ago; he should have been chasing mid-card gold and developing his mic skills and being allowed to show some sort of a personality. Things that he is now delivering by the bucket load.
The suspension of Reigns may have been the best thing that happened to him. By killing stone dead his course to be the Make-a-Wish granting face of the company, “The Guy” is no longer shackled by an expectation to convey a corporate blandness at all times. It was that which was turning the fans against him; mere weeks after he was cut loose onto the mid-card, Reigns is a thousand times better. That will earn him the respect of the fans.